John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic here present a complete set of Nielsen’s symphonies, following on from the successful release a year ago of Sibelius’ complete symphonies. The two sets together celebrate the 150th anniversary this year of the birth of both composers. Several concerts devoted to Nielsen’s symphonies, played by the same forces, coincide with this release: on BBC 3 in February, at the Nielsen and Sibelius festival in Stockholm in April, during a week of celebrations at the Bridgewater Hall in June, etc.
Ten CDs bring together the works of one of the most prominent Danish composers, as performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and a variety of vocal and instrumental soloists. Includes the entirety of six symphonies, plus concertos for clarinet, violin, and flute; a wind quintet; piano works; and more.
The six symphonies were recorded between 1973 and 1975, and for their time were the best available recordings of Nielsen's music. They constitute the bulk of this 2008 box set, and though two smaller sets of the symphonies and the concertos were issued by EMI in 2007, this seven-disc compendium provides much more music at a comparable cost.
Even though the revival of Carl Nielsen's music in the late '60s proved to be nearly as revelatory as the slightly earlier promotion of Gustav Mahler's symphonies, the pace of recordings at the time was quite sluggish. Indeed, by the early '70s, the discography of Nielsen's symphonies included a smattering of releases by Leonard Bernstein and Eugene Ormandy for Columbia, Jascha Horenstein on Nonesuch, and Ole Schmidt on Unicorn, along with these utterly superior recordings by Herbert Blomstedt and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra for EMI. The six symphonies were recorded between 1973 and 1975, and for their time were the best available recordings of Nielsen's music.
This cycle of Nielsen symphonies is a partial crossover from the Bis label, not a remake. The connection with Bis assures that the sonics given to the Gothenburg Sym. will be excellent, and the clarity of the wind playing, the inner detail and clean dynamics are a big plus. Jarvi isn't especially tuned in to the mystery and tragedy of Nielsen's later works. He zips too quickly through the first movement of the Fifth, missing its combination of anguish and chaos. He isn't expansive or joyous enough in Sym. #3, even though the subtitle is 'Espansiva.'
This CD accompanied BBC Music Magazine Vol. 25 No. 9. In our June issue, we enjoy an exclusive interview with Sir Mark Elder as the Hallé’s conductor turns 70 and present a free cover CD of the orchestra performing Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, ‘The Inextinguishable’.